Biodefense Associate Professor Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, of the George Mason School of Policy, Government and International Affairs, has published an article which appears in a special edition of Frontiers in Public Health. An excerpt of the article is available below with a link to the full article.
In 2004, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) was created as an independent federal advisory body. Its role was to advise the U.S. government on strategies to prevent the misuse of dual-use research. Since its inception, the NSABB has ruled on two cases: the 1918 flu-virus synthesis conducted by government scientists in 2005 and the H5N1 experiment conducted in 2011 by two separate university teams in the Netherlands and the United States. While in the first case, without much public debate, the NSABB quickly decided to support publication of the experiment’s findings, in the second case, it initially requested a halt on publication and the removal of methodological details from the proposed articles for fear that they could be used by malevolent actors to create a pandemic among humans. The decision was reversed 6 months later, but it sparked a worldwide firestorm, engaging the scientific and security communities in a heated debate about whether the dissemination of scientific data should be regulated, and what types of research should be conducted. Yet, the key question that triggered the overall controversy remains largely ignored: under what conditions could the H5N1 experiment be reproduced, if at all, by malevolent actors using only published data?